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Book Chapter

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This chapter examines the classic arguments for freedom of speech. It traces the first comprehensive argument for freedom of speech as a limiting principle of government to John Milton’s Areopagitica, a polemic against censorship by a requirement of prior licensing in which Milton develops an argument for the pursuit of truth through exposure to false and heretical ideas rather than the passive reception of orthodoxy. Despite Milton’s belief in the advancement of understanding through free inquiry, he was far from liberal in the modern sense of that term and he did not, for instance, extend the tolerance he advocated to Catholic religious texts. The chapter then assesses what James Madison had to say about the role of public opinion as a crucial element in the creation of political authority and the preservation of rights, and considers Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr’s opinions about the freedom of speech. It also looks at how the celebrated federal judge Learned Hand conceives of the freedom of speech as a majority-creating procedure rather than an individual right, while Justice Louis Brandeis understood the freedom of speech to be an individual liberty important as such but especially important for its contribution to democratic character. Ultimately, the most widely-read of the classic arguments for free speech is that developed by John Stuart Mill in his Essay On Liberty.


First Amendment | Human Rights Law | Immigration Law | Law